Essays on South African Literature
In the years of anti-apartheid struggle, the immediate political conflict was pre-eminent in the minds of many poets but extended to broader concerns about race, writing and colonialism, such as the debate about the imbongi (African praise singer) as the true antecedent of the contemporary African poet. After the end of apartheid new challenges came to the South African book publishing industry and, thus, to South African writers, as they tried to make sense of the past and draw tentative lines into the future. The works of J. M. Coetzee, Njabulo Ndebele, Kelwyn Sole, Sandile Dikeni, Vincent Swart, Heather Robertson, Patrick Cullinan, Seitlhamo Motsapi, W. P. B. Botha and more are read against this changing social and political landscape.
Dostoevsky in Cape Town: J.M. Coetzee’s The Master of Petersburg
Hiding behind the mask of a dead poet, behind the “deep, criminal countenance of a saint”,1 who mourns the death of his son, is an undertaking fraught with difficulties,2 difficulties for the author and difficulties for the reader and critic, too, difficulties, which made Thomas Mann exclaim:
Of the demonic, that is how I feel, one should make poetry, not write. […] To dedicate to it critical essays, appears to me, to put it mildly, as indiscretion. Perhaps, very possibly so, this is only a euphemism of my laziness and cowardice.3
When I mention difficulties, I am not talking about those critics who illegitimately compared the main character and his imaginary Petersburg with historical realities which are not at stake. Or at least not in the way they imagined.4
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